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Voters face new WEB measure

By SAM BENNETT

Staff Reporter

The Lake Oswego City Council agreed last week to ask voters if they want to refinance the West End Building on Kruse Way.

The council voted unanimously to put the bond measure on the May 20 ballot.

The ballot would ask if the city should refinance the West End Building with up to $20 million in general obligation bonds. The annual cost would be $105 per $300,000 assessed value.

'It's a pretty darn low payment per taxpayer,' said city Councilor Ellie McPeak. 'It's quite a bargain.'

The city purchased the property in July 2006, using a short-term line of credit. Using funds from its general reserve, the city is paying about $1 million annually in interest on that line of credit. The interest rate the city is paying is about 5 percent.

The $20 million property has 14 acres and an 88,000-square-foot building that was used by Safeco Insurance.

The city bought the building in the hopes of renovating it to accommodate a community center. But the cost of that renovation, up to $80 million, became prohibitive as other major capital projects, such as the $100 million sewer interceptor, emerged as higher priorities.

The building is used for Parks and Recreation Department offices and activities, and Mayor Judie Hammerstad has said she would like to see the police and the 9-1-1 call center moved there. The building could also house a library facility, Hammerstad said.

In November, citizens voted to keep the property, after a group called Ask Lake Oswegans challenged whether the property should stay in the city's inventory.

Before last week's vote, citizens asked the council whether the May ballot should mention what the city wants to use the building for.

Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce CEO Jerry Wheeler said the ballot measure should 'include a clear outline of how the building is to be used.'

'If we're going to refinance this, give us something we can wrap our arms around a little bit,' he said, referring to the need for describing in the ballot measure what the building will be used for.

'I look at this as a fiscal housekeeping issue, rather than a decision about (the building's) use,' said McPeak. 'The building can't handle all the wants and needs this city has to have and our pocketbooks can't stomach all the costs it would take to put everything in place.'

Lake Oswego resident Steve Dodds said he's in favor of the May vote.

'Now is the time to do this,' he said. 'Now is the time to resolve it.'

If voters don't approve the measure in May, the city has the option of extending the line of credit.

If the measure is approved, the city could get an interest rate on the bonds in the 3.8 to 4 percent range.

Councilors said the city may look into leasing some of the space out or entering a public/private partnership to share renovation costs.

McPeak said a public/private partnership could take several forms. Maybe Nike could sponsor a gymnasium or part of the property could be leased out as commercial space, she said.

The city could also consider selling the property city hall currently sits on and moving city hall to the West End Building, she said.